The first time I experience gratitude on a profound level, and I mean tears and snot and heart exploding gratitude, was in my first yoga class almost ten years ago. It was in the last pose called shavasana or corpse pose, where in which one lies on their mat completely at ease, that I was overcome by a moment of recognition. My body is doing ALL that it can to support me ALL OF THE TIME. I became overwhelmed with appreciation of my physical structure moving and engaging through the world, pumping my heart, filling my lungs with air. I left that class glowing, and the gratitude didn’t stop with my body, I became swept away in a gratitude whirlwind, appreciating the sun on the trees, the smell of salt from the ocean on the air, my dear friend who had suggested that we go that very class, gratitude for my life and every thing in it. In that moment it was easy for me to see all of the blessings around me, supporting me. A golden thread of joy and wonder woven through everything I interacted with. It became clear to me then that gratitude is a powerful medicine and available to us everywhere all the time.
Gratitude has been the topic of study and discussion for some time now. I read an article recently, discussing how gratitude may physically change the brain. They quoted a study conducted by the Indiana University led by Prathik Kini. The study suggests, “that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mindset -- you could even think of your brain as having a sort of gratitude 'muscle' that can be exercised and strengthened... the more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future." In the study the group practicing gratitude were instructed to write thank you letters to people that had helped them in some way. They found that not only were there differences in the brain scans of the group that practiced gratitude versus those who didn’t, but also that the effects of being thankful were long lasting. Months after the study brain scans still showed a noticeable difference between those who practiced gratitude and those who didn’t. This blew me away! We can change our brain, our quality of life simply by practicing one kind of state of mind?!
From personal experience this article felt true but I had never made a consistent effort to bring gratitude into a daily routine. So as an experiment for 21 days I wrote down 3 things to be thankful for, usually at the end of the day. I had heart-bursting moments just like that day on my mat as well as a few insights on how gratitude affects my life and how to practice it.
Life’s wisdoms most often come to me in the language of the body, no surprise that I’m an LMT, so my biggest insights through this thankfulness experiment came to me in such a way. Most of the joints in our body are synovial joints, fluid filled capsules designed to cushion the articulating bones ensuring stability, movement, and to take a measure of impact, think of our ankles and knees. This fluid acts similarly to oil in an engine, literally greasing our joints. It’s produced in the surrounding membranes and it’s production increases with movement. The more one moves the better the joint can “oil” itself. I was thinking about all of this standing in a lunge when my thoughts drifted to my knees. These wonderful muscles, the quads and hamstrings, our calf and shin muscles support them. One set of muscles is contracting, and their opposing pair releasing to find balance in movement. A phrase suddenly unwound itself as I moved into a plank; gratitude is the lubrication of our “pendulation”. I’ll explain. Life is dynamic, some chapters are heavier and require strength, like contracting muscles. Other chapters are easy and light, loose like relaxed muscles. We swing back and forth from heaviness to lightness like a pendulum. Just as “well oiled” joints make movement easier, so too does gratitude in the swinging of a heavy heart to a lighter one, or visa versa. It’s easy to conclude if one is grateful for life then it makes the struggles easier, but this insight felt deeper than that. Instead of seeing gratitude as a means to combat heaviness, I began to see as a means of embracing joy equally to that of discomfort. Gratitude doesn’t erase the hardship, in my experience it embraces it as just another part of the human experience, even allowing hardship to be appreciated in it’s own way. It seems like this “pendulation” is inevitable and practicing gratitude provides a sense of agency to embrace the fluctuation with the ease of a well-oiled machine. Thank you synovial joints!
I discovered something else. Just as synovial fluid is inherent to our physical forms, it would seem that gratitude is inherent in our hearts. In this daily practice I noticed a challenge in cultivating a genuine sense of gratitude at times. Sure, my mind would list of a number of things I could imagine being grateful for or should be grateful for, but in those moments it’s like my heart just didn’t want to take the bait. So instead of settling for half felt appreciation, I experimented. I found that in those moments it was less about the thing I was finding appreciation for and more about the quality of appreciation I had that lead to the sense of joy that gratitude brings. These were the days that my list almost always consisted of small things and usually right at hand.
Soft socks that keep my toes warm,
How good it feels to take a deep breath
The feeling of hunger notifying me it’s time to eat
It was in these moments I had to drop what my mind thought I should be thankful for and instead drop into what my heart was already feeling thankful for, which more often times than not had something to do with my body. There is something about the tangibility of the body that brings richness to the feeling of gratitude for me, maybe because in a way I am appreciating my very own life force. In one moment I feel the expansiveness that gratefulness brings and simultaneously what it feels like to be on the receiving end of this appreciation. So, in the moments when it’s a challenge to really feel appreciation, my heart has taught me that my body is a good place to start, as I’m probably already experiencing a level of genuine gratitude for it. The effort in the instance was less about making a “good” list and more about making the space and stillness to listen to what I was already thankful for.
I highly recommend a daily gratitude practice if you don’t already have one, even if it’s just in noticing one small thing, it makes all the difference. You’re something to be thankful for! I find I take better care of myself the more I appreciate all that I do just by being alive. As some inspiration here are some examples of how I am commonly grateful for my body:
- Thank you hands, for all that you do, from preparing dinner to showing someone I care, to working on all of the people you do. (I usually look at my hands when I’m telling them how much I appreciate all their hard work. Give it a try!)
- Thank you tongue for making my meals so enjoyable. Because of you I know what my favorite foods are and feel so comforted by them when I eat them. Delicious!!! (I like to take a mindful bite of something yummy when I thank my tongue.)
- Thank you heart for pumping so perfectly, day in and day out. For making sure my blood flows throughout my body oxygenating all of my cells, and changing your pace accordingly. (I usually put a hand on my chest so I can feel my heart beat and the heat rising into my palm.)
Best wishes on your Gratitude Journey!!! And of course, I’d be silly if I didn’t mention how powerful massage can be in finding gratitude for all that you do ☺ Take a look at our Massage Memberships, as they’re an affordable way to say thank you to yourself regularly, you deserve it!!!
Krystal Meyer & the VWS Team.